The Birkin bag is a personal accessory of luggage or a tote by Hermès that is handmade in leather and named after actress and singer Jane Birkin. The bag is currently in fashion as a symbol of wealth due to its high price and use by celebrities.
Its prices range from £7,500 to £100,000 (US$11,550 to US$150,000). Costs escalate according to the type of leather and if exotic skins were used. The bags are distributed to Hermès boutiques on unpredictable schedules and in limited quantities, creating artificial scarcity and exclusivity. Small versions (25 cm) may be considered a handbag or purse.
In 1981, Hermès chief executive Jean-Louis Dumas was seated next to Jane Birkin on a flight from Paris to London. She had just placed her straw travelling bag in the overhead compartment for her seat, but the contents fell to the deck, leaving her to scramble to replace them. Birkin explained to Dumas that it had been difficult to find a leather weekend bag she liked.
In 1984, he created a black supple leather bag for her, based on a 1982 design. She used the bag initially, but changed her mind because she was carrying too many things in it: “What’s the use of having a second one?” she said laughingly. “You only need one and that busts your arm; they’re bloody heavy. I’m going to have to have an operation for tendonitis in the shoulder." Nevertheless, since that time, the bag has become a status symbol.
In an August 2015 New York Times article and its accompanying style feature video by Bill Cunningham a moulded rubber bag bearing the same style seemed to have become ubiquitous in Manhattan, along with examples of the authentic ones. A significantly lower cost was reported for the rubber totes, being comparable to typical leather handbags.
Birkin bags are sold in a range of sizes. Each one may be made to order with different customer-chosen hides, colour, and hardware fixtures. There are other individual options, such as diamond-encrusting.
The bag also comes in a variety of hides such as calf leather, lizard, and ostrich. Among the most expensive used to be saltwater crocodile skin and bags with smaller scales cost more than those with larger scales. In 2015, however, Jane Birkin asked Hermès to stop using her name for the crocodile version due to ethical concerns. Each bag is lined with goat-skin, the colour of the interior matching the exterior. Prices for the Birkin bag depend on type of skin, the colour, and hardware fixtures.
Sizes range from 25-, 30-, 35-, to 40-centimeters, with travelling bags of 50- and 55-centimeters. It also comes in a variety of colours such as black, brown, golden tan, navy blue, olive green, orange, pink, powder blue, red, and white.
* The bag has a lock and keys. The keys are enclosed in a leather lanyard known as a clochette, carried by looping it through a handle. The bag is locked by closing the top flaps over buckle loops, wrapping the buckle straps, or closing the lock on the front hardware. Locks and keys are number-coded. Early locks only bore one number on the bottom of the lock. In more recent years, Hermès has added a second number under the Hermes stamp of the lock. The numbers for locks may be the same for hundreds of locks, as they are batch numbers in which the locks were made.
The metallic hardware (the lock, keys, buckle hardware, and base studs) are plated with gold or palladium to prevent tarnishing. Hardware is updated regularly to maintain the quality available in the industry at time of production. The metal lock may be covered with leather as a custom option. Detailing with diamonds is another custom option.
Hermès offers a "spa treatment" – a reconditioning for heavily-used bags.
A "Shooting Star" Birkin has a metallic image resembling a shooting star, stamped adjacent to the "Hermès, Paris Made in France" stamp, that is in gold or silver to match the hardware and embossing. Rarely, the stamp is blind or colourless, if the bag is made of one or two leathers onto which no metallic stamping is used. Sometimes, Birkins or other Hermès bags may be made by independent artisans for "personal use", but only once a year. Every bag bears the stamp of the artisan who made the bag. These identifications vary widely, but are not different for every bag made. Finding stamps of more than one artisan on a bag occurs because the stamp is not a serial reference. Fonts and the order of stamping may vary, depending on the artisans.
The Birkin bag may be distinguished from the similar Hermès Kelly handbag by the number of its handles. The single-handle handbag is the Kelly, but the Birkin has two handles.
The bags are handmade in France by expert artisans. The company's signature saddle stitching, developed in the 1800s, is another distinctive feature.
Each bag is hand-sewn, buffed, painted, and polished, taking several days to finish. An average bag is created in 48 hours. Leathers are obtained from different tanners in France, resulting in varying smells and textures. Because of varying individual skills, other details of the bags may not match with other bags. The company justifies the cost of the Birkin bag, compared to other bags, based on the meticulous craftsmanship and scarcity.
According to a 2014 estimate, Hermès produced 70,000 Birkin bags that year. The bag is highly coveted and, for several years, was reputed to have a waiting list of up to six years. The rarity of these bags are purportedly designed to increase demand by collectors.
As a result of the strong demand, the Birkin bag has a high resale value in many countries, especially in Asia, and to such an extent that the bag is considered by some people as an instrument of investment. One 2016 study found that Birkin bags had average annual returns of 14.2% between 1980 and 2015, significantly beating the S&P 500 Index. In April 2010, Hermès announced that the waiting list would no longer exist, implying that it is potentially available to all.
The Philippine Star reported in March 2013, that a very high-end, 30-cm Shiny Rouge H Porosus Crocodile Birkin with 18K gold fittings and encrusted with diamonds fetched US$203,150 at an auction in Dallas, Texas.
In her memoir, The Primates of Park Avenue, author Wednesday Martin recounts how Birkin bags signal social class status on the Upper East Side.
Hermès and Jane Birkin resolve spat over crocodile handbags
Actor withdrew name from product after Peta video showed cruelty at slaughter farm, which French luxury fashion house says was isolated incident
Angelique Chrisafis in Paris
Friday 11 September 2015 18.49 BST
In the moneyed and cut-throat world of French luxury goods, no brand dares lose a glamorous ambassador in a public spat over a handbag. So it was with relief that the fashion house Hermès announced on Friday it had patched things up with the actor and singer Jane Birkin, following a row over animal rights.
In July, Birkin had demanded Hermès remove her name from its Birkin Croco bag after learning of “cruel practices” used against crocodiles in its production. She had been moved to act after seeing a video released by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, showing how live reptiles were skinned or sawed open on farms that supplied luxury brands.
On Friday, however, the French leather-goods firm said it had identified an “isolated irregularity” in the slaughter process at a crocodile farm in Texas and had warned the farm it would cease any relations should it continue to neglect its recommended procedures.
“Jane Birkin has advised us that she is satisfied by the measures taken by Hermès,” the company added.
Birkin’s public takedown of Hermès over the Birkin Croco – one of the world’s most expensive and sought-after handbags – had been a fashion world embarrassment.
Birkin is still hugely popular in France, where she arrived in the 1960s as a 21-year-old, awkwardly shy, home counties English rose and shot to fame singing the the 1969 heavy-breathing melody Je T’aime Moi Non Plus with her partner, Serge Gainsbourg, France’s biggest rock star, poet and provocateur.
The story of the chance invention of the Hermès Birkin bag had long been one of the cleverest marketing narratives in the luxury goods world, providing a human touch often missing from sleek leather products.
In the 1980s, so the tale goes, Birkin had been upgraded on an Air France flight and was fiddling with the contents that had fallen out of a mundane handbag, two days after her then-husband, Jacques Doillon, had reversed his car over the cherished basket she used to carry as well, “crushing it on purpose”.
When the passenger sat next to her suggested she needed a bag with pockets, she said: “The day Hermès makes one with pockets I will have that.” He turned out to be the Hermès chief executive and they came up with a design together on the back of a sick bag, in exchange for the use of her name.
Hermès prides itself on its reputation. The company is one of the world’s last high-end labels to remain independent, defiantly resisting conglomerates and what it scathingly calls “mass-market techniques”. It is still controlled by various branches of the family descended from the saddlemaker who founded the firm in 1837.
Its status and traditional production methods – each bag is made by hand in France by one artisan devoted entirely to that piece – have seen it boost sales and weather various financial crises that have shaken other parts of the luxury goods market.
The Birkin Croco – with a starting retail price of more than €20,000 (£14,700) – and its cousin, the Kelly, named after actress Grace Kelly, are among the most sought-after luxury goods in the world.
Birkin bags comes in all types of materials, from leather to ostrich skin, and Hermès produces fewer than there is demand for, creating waiting lists that have seemingly made celebrities from Victoria Beckham to the Kardashians, even keener to acquire their own and be photographed carrying one.